As passionate advocates of the benefits of yoga for life, for all ages and sexuality – we get a little hurt when we see yoga students come and go from out local classes.
Many people arrive to take some free yoga classes at the gym or at their local studio a few times then disappear for a period of time, mostly because they didn’t notice any benefits after a few trials. Some return to the practice at later points – while all too many others do not.
But, what would it be like if you committed to yoga for life a regular and consistent yoga practice? What would happen to your body? More importantly, what would happen to your mind and well being?
The full benefit of yoga for life kind of sneaks up on you.
Many go to their first yoga classes because they want to get more flexible. They go to yoga for the physical benefits. They know that their hamstrings are tight, so some yoga movements will probably help. They know that they have an anxious mind, so some moderate meditation is a tool that might calm their nerves.
These are all well and good, but to experience even MORE does involve committing to a regular yoga practice that lasts longer than a few weeks or months. And yes, you can even use yoga to stay fit while on vacation too!
“What are the benefits of yoga for life that I’m missing out on?”
The benefits of yoga that I think are pretty obvious have already been mentioned: flexibility, strength, balance. These are obvious because they are easy to measure. You notice when you’re more flexible.
“Oh, look! I can touch my toes!”
You see signs of new strength in your body. “I’ve got abs now!” You’ll continue to gain these physical benefits as you continue to practice yoga, but that’s not the end. Just like they say in those infomercials, “But wait! There’s more!”
Now, you don’t necessarily have to fork out more money to get those added yoga bonuses, but it does involve more time; but in my view, it’s time well spent. The additional bonuses of yoga are what I call “intangible.”
These are the things that are not as easy to measure. These are the things you don’t necessarily see, like six pack abs when you look in the mirror – but some of these beginner yoga poses for men can help with that too!
Ephemeral things like happiness, joy, appreciation, gratitude, mindfulness, well being, patience, and the list goes on.
These are things you can probably measure using psychological testing, but who has time for that. These “intangibles” are those benefits of yoga that come because you took the time to take care of your physical body.
Early teachers of this practice determined that the best way to access the mind is through the body. Some of them have even said, “just practice, don’t worry about the rest.” We are very aware of our bodies; it’s a physical entity. We notice some bloating when we’ve eaten too much. We notice a fever when we have the flu. We notice the pain when we’ve sprained an ankle.
Yoga works in the same way.
As we introduce the body to these new physical postures, we become more aware of the body. The awareness is greater because these are body positions that we are not used to doing on a daily basis. We really don’t take notice of our bodies when we are sitting on the sofa because we do that all the time. But when we do Chair Pose in yoga…that brings a whole new set of insight to the body.
Being “aware” is one of those “intangibles.”
“What IS awareness?”
Awareness is just another way to say that you’re paying very close attention to one thing. It is so easy to get distracted in our day-to-day living; there is SOOO much going on.
How can one relax and pay attention when we are drawn to so many things all at the same time? It really takes effort to stop what you’re doing to pay attention to one thing.
Doing yoga is helping us practice do just that: to stop and pay attention. One of the things you pay attention to while practicing yoga is the breath. While sitting on the couch watching television, you’re obviously breathing, but you’re not really paying attention to it.
Yoga is designed to have us pay closer attention to our breath. We do that by taking deeper breaths. It takes our full attention to take a deep breath.
Doing this draws your focus inward; everything going on outside of you seems to disappear. You’re only aware of your breath. Now, that’s only a temporary disappearance, but it DOES calm and ease the mind for that short moment. (Think about if you were able to do that more often.)
That sense of awareness increases and it spreads to other factors in your life: more aware of your feelings when you feel sadness or joy; more aware of your actions when you’re helping another person; more aware of your partner’s feelings when they’ve had a hard day. It’s the continuous practice of yoga that brings about this deeper awareness.
“Ok, so how long should I practice yoga? How long does it take to be more aware?”
This answer is going to be different for everyone. It really depends on how much time you can give to the practice (to yourself). At first, you might be going to your yoga classes 3 to 5 times a week.
You’re working hard to get those stretchy hamstrings, so you devote more time and energy to the practice. Some yogis go to class every single day, but is that what you can afford? Probably not.
Even after starting out with a more rigorous practice, maybe in reality, you only have time to go to a yoga class once a week. That’s great! If that fits into your weekly schedule…DO IT! By all means, you WILL start to experience those “intangible” benefits of yoga.
“How will I know when I am getting the benefits of yoga for life?”
Like I said earlier, some of these non-visible benefits of yoga for life kind of sneak up on you. One day you’ll wake and realize, “oh, my gosh…my mind isn’t spinning. I’m not getting overly upset at work. I’m more calm with my kids.”
Others will probably notice the changes in you before you do! They will see and experience you as a whole new person: someone who is more generous, loving, kind, patient, and happy.
“Is Yoga habit forming?”
Honestly, yes! Yoga is certainly not a quick fix for all that ails you; it is something that requires your devotion and dedication. It takes time; it means coming back to the practice often. Be consistent. In that regard, yoga IS habit forming, but it’s a good habit.
Yoga is something you can do for a lifetime – especially if you get hooked on yoga retreats!
You may not always be able to get yourself in some of those twisting binding postures, but when you’ve moved beyond the physical benefits of yoga, some of those types of postures become less important. You’ll discover that simply sitting and breathing deeply for a few minutes is all you need to experience the benefit.
Don’t worry if you can’t get to a class downtown every week. Throw down a yoga mat in your living room. Take some deep breaths and do some down dogs! It really doesn’t take much. The key is: do something and do it regularly. Yoga is for life.